The lush green field was an open invitation for a game of cricket. On a sunny wintry Sunday or holiday morning it was irresistible.
We did not play the genuine leather ball as we had no protective gear available and the ground was small with the three houses of the three brothers lined up on our usual onside. The ball used was a spongy one, heavier than the tennis ball. The inner wall of our verandah acted as a back up for our wicket keeper.
We normally played limited overs games of 10 to 25 overs depending on the number of players and time available. Sometimes we had limited overs test matches of four innings.
Our teams never consisted of eleven players each. Neighborhood boys were of different age groups and varying levels of experience or expertise. Based on these features there was bidding for players once the rival captains were appointed. We could very well be called the pioneers of Indian Premier League T20 cricket! The odd player, normally too young or no good, was assigned the job of fielding for both sides which also involved retrieving the ball from gardens bushes or drains.
Appointment of the umpire was a ticklish issue. He had to be from the side batting and so there was always the doubt of biased decisions that led to heated debates very often. Sometimes, non-playing elders helped us out by taking up that crucial responsibility.
There was always a craze for a chance with the bat. So much so that that the boys got ecstatic when their own batting teammates fell! The opening slot, be it in batting or bowling, was the most sought after opportunity. Becoming an all-rounder was thus a compulsion rather than a desired ability.
One fine winter morning in the role of the captain I won the toss and gleefully decided to bat first. Being the leader I had the exclusive right of opening the innings too. The game got underway and runs were coming free and easy.
In the heat of the moment we naturally would forget about the self imposed restrictions pertaining to the ground limitations. Getting the gift of a rising short ball outside the leg stump I went on with a furious full blooded pull. The ball shot off like a bullet and hit a window pane of the house in the middle. The glass was shattered to pieces and the ball vanished inside.
Pin drop silence descended over the ground. The house belonged to the eldest brother-the most dreaded one. We waited in breathless terror and suspense.
The main door of the house opened. Out came the dreaded old man with the ball in one hand and the other hand raised menacingly. He thundered towards us, glowering scowling and growling. And then, he saw me cowering there with the bat.
The incredible transformation that took place at that instant was unforgettable and one of the funniest to unfold.
The dreaded old man stopped in his tracks. His ferocious face disintegrated into a distorted grin. The glowering eyes turned to glassy perplexity. His grip on the ball loosened and he began tossing it uncertainly. Then he launched himself into a grotesque but managed oratory.
‘Hello, my little one! Be a little more careful, okay? See what you’ve done to my window! No more hits, right? Here, take your ball, my child!’
He tossed up the ball to me and quietly retreated into the house.
Our relief was almost loud. The boys thanked me, because they thought the old man did what he did due to his regards for my father and that we were like guests in the campus.
The game resumed, of course!